Federal Court Rejects NMFS Catch Limit on Northern Anchovy

A federal court in San Jose, California, has struck down a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to set a 25,000 metric ton catch level for the central population of northern anchovy, based on a finding that NMFS’s decision was not based on the best science available but rather on decade-old data.

US District Court Judge Lucy Koh found that NMFS had not adequately considered whether its management prevented overfishing. NMFS must now promulgate new management limits based on the best available science. Koh granted a motion for summary judgment on January 19 to the conservation organization Oceana, which was represented by Earthjustice in the litigation naming the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NMFS.

The 33-page ruling noted that optimum yield from a fishery must provide the greatest overall benefit to the nation, taking into account protection of marine ecosystems.

Northern anchovy, a filter feeder that consumes various types of plankton, is an important forage fish for ocean predators off central California, including sea lions, brown pelicans, Chinook salmon, humpback whales, dolphins, shark pups and sea birds.

In October 2016, NMFS set an annual catch limit for the central subpopulation of northern anchovy at 25,000 metric tons, the same limit in place since 2000. That decision was based on a 1991 study using data from 1964 to 1990 and estimated anchovy biomass of more than 700,000 metric tons, while the agency’s own estimates of the 2015 population size, which ranged from 15,000 to 32,000 metric tons, represented more than a 95 percent decline since 2005, Oceana said.

The decision holds NMFS to fundamental standards intended by Congress, which require the government to sustainably manage the nation’s fisheries for the benefit of both fishermen and dependent species, said Mariel Combs, Pacific Counsel for Oceana.

The year-round fishery, which remains open, has a value of about $100 to $150 per metric ton. Last year’s landings totaled some 5,581.85 metric tons.